In the last few weeks there has been an interminable spate of news around Indian startups and their people. Amongst the high-profile exits were Punit Soni the Chief Product Officer of Flipkart left who left after a year at the Indian ecommerce giant, Anand Radhakrishnan CPO of Snapdeal, Manish Dugar, CFO and Samuel John Director, Operations for North America who left InMobi.
In another string of events around people, Flipkart, Stayzilla, Babajobs, Nearbuy and a few other startups delayed joining dates at premier B-school and engineering campus thereby inciting nationwide uproar against these brands and inviting the ire of the management of these prestigious schools.
A sea of opinions from industry experts and HR gurus started floating around on the mainstream and social media about why they shouldn’t have reneged on their offers or not postponed the joining dates. Like many others I also enjoyed reading these opinions and posts.
However, at this juncture, I want to take a step back and reflect on something deeper. Isn’t it time for us to take a pause and ponder what’s going wrong? Will it not be far more constructive to figure out what could be done to set it right rather than pass judgment on their decisions as wrong or right?
Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that I think startups should consider tackling some of these issues:
People Are The Biggest Brand Ambassadors of A Company
And I mean to include those who have worked in the past and those who didn’t get selected in the interview round. Every potential hire does a lot of research about the company before joining as career is one of the most important decisions of life. They find out about the company from their friends who are working in these companies. Also, as work is a significant part of our lives, employees (and former employees) talk often about the company with their friends and family.
So what do you do to meaningfully engage them? It has been observed that money and perks beyond a point are not sufficient motivators.
In 2010, Timothy Judge and others carried out a meta-analysis of research literature that covered over 15,000 individuals and found that the overlap between pay and job satisfaction is less than 2%!
A startup has a lot of business challenges and every employee goes through the same. Startups need to engage their workforce as they try to navigate through these challenges. Do employees have a sounding board in another employee who can help them with some clues? Do they have the ear of an industry veteran inside the company who can help them acquire the required skills to navigate? If the answers to these questions are in affirmative, then employees and alumni of startups will become the biggest PR machinery for your startup.
Talent Engagement Needs to Happen At All Levels
Even senior people need to feel engaged and they can do so by giving away from the veritable storehouse of knowledge and skills that they have because of their varied experiences and years of work across multiple companies and geographies. Established companies like Intel, Sun Microsystems and IBM have understood this very well and have designed Mentoring Programs to not only engage the junior and middle level employees but also gainfully engage their leadership cadres. Across all these levels, these have been able to grow people faster and have been able to retain them longer.
People Strategy Is A Part of Business Strategy
People Strategy is the cornerstone for a startup's success.
Designing and implementing a sound People Strategy should not be interpreted as having stylish workspaces with candy colored work-pods, cutting-edge fitness equipment and coffee machines brewing beans sourced from Kenya, Sumatra and Brazil.
It’s also not definitely about astronomical salaries that are doled out as a trade off to the employee for the risk he’s taken of joining a startup. All of these are good to have provided there is a well thought out People Strategy to nurture and grow them.
A solid People Strategy should have a well meaning Mentoring Program which has the buy-in of the leadership team can address a lot of people issues and create effective engagement.
Startups should have a strong engagement process during On-boarding too, apart from the orientation. By mentoring the employees during On-boarding period, they get completely aligned with the culture and are able to find a sure footing, thus contributing to the organization sooner than expected.
Startups usually suffer from a deficit in leadership pipeline and a Mentoring Program can develop that by leveraging internal talent available in senior employees to groom high potential people for future leadership roles. This creates a huge engagement point for the senior employees as well as they contribute to the growth of the company and tend to stay around longer.
People Strategy should be a part of the Business Strategy of the startups and should have the leadership of the company completely involved in its drafting and implementation, without which Indian startups are bound to go through difficult times with their people.